mercy

(To view the different translations of this term in a simplified graphical form on a new page, click or tap here.)

The Greek terms that are typically translated as “mercy” (or “compassion”) in English are translated in various ways. Bratcher / Nida classify them in (1) those based on the quality of heart, or other psychological center, (2) those which introduce the concept of weeping or extreme sorrow, (3) those which involve willingness to look upon and recognize the condition of others, or (4) those which involve a variety of intense feelings.

Here are some (back-) translations:

honor (God)

The Greek that is often translated as “honor” in English is translated as “say my name” (Huehuetla Tepehua), “make me great” (Highland Totonac), “good what is said about me” (Tzeltal), “speak well of me” (Western Highland Purepecha), “lift up my name” (San Blas Kuna and Kpelle).

grieving, sorrowful

The Greek that is translated as “grieving” or “sorrowful” in English is often translated metaphorically: “his stomach died” (Mezquital Otomi), “he was heavy in his stomach” (Uduk), “his heart was pained” (Kpelle), “he was sick in his mind” (Amganad Ifugao), “his heart hung” (Loma), and “his heart was spoiled” (Mossi).

See also Seat of the Mind for traditional views of “ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling.”

praise (God)

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “praise (God)” in English is translated as “make-great” / “make-great the name of” (Tae’), “to speak well of” (Western Highland Purepecha), “lift up the name of” (San Blas Kuna, Kpelle), “to sing the name of” (Huehuetla Tepehua), “to make good” (Highland Totonac), “to say good about” (Tzeltal), or “to make known something good about” (Navajo). (Source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)

In Dan a figurative expression for praising God is used: “pushing God’s horse.” “In the distant past people closely followed the horses ridden by chiefs, so ‘pushing’ them.” (Source: Don Slager)

preach

The Greek terms that are translated into English as “preach” are regularly rendered into Aari as “speaking the word of salvation.” (Source: Loren Bliese)

Other languages (back-) translate it in the following manner:

  • Chinese: “chuandao 傳道” (“to hand down the Way (or: the Logos)”)
  • Kekchí: “declare the word”
  • Kpelle “speak God’s word”
  • Tzeltal: “he explains, they hear” (“the goal of all preachers”)
  • Copainalá Zoque: “a preacher is ‘one who speaks-scatters'” (a figure based on the scattering of seed in the process of sowing) (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Shilluk: “declare the word of of God.” (source: Nida 1964, p. 237)

In Luang it is translated with different shades of meaning:

  • For Acts 9:20, 10:42: “nakotnohora”: “talk about” (“The generic term for preaching.”)
  • For Acts 8:4, 8:5, 8:25: “rodkiota-ralde’etnohora” — “bring words, give news about.” (“This term is used when the preacher is moving from place to place to preach.”)

Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.

glorify God

The Greek that is translated as “glorify God” in English is rendered as “to wake God up” in Guerrero Amuzgo.

Other translations are “say that God is very great” (Central Tarahumara), “how good God is, they said” (Tzotzil), “to speak about God as good” (Tzeltal), “to give God a great name” (Highland Puebla Nahuatl), “to give God highness” (Kipsigis), “to take God out high” (in the sense of “to exalt”) (Huautla Mazatec), “to make great, to exalt” (Toraja-Sa’dan, Javanese), “to lift up God’s brightness” (Kpelle), “to show God to be great” (Central Pame), “to make God shine” (Wayuu), “to make God’s name big” (Huastec), “to make God important” (Isthmus Zapotec) (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida), or “say to God: You are of good heart” (Huichol) (source: Nida 1964, p. 228).

In Waama this is translated as “make God’s name big.” (For the translation into Waama, five categories of verb doxazo and the noun doxa were found that were all translated differently, see glorify (reveal God’s or Jesus’ glory to people)).

In Shipibo-Conibo it is translated as “to brag about God” (“This may strike some at first as being an unspiritual approach, but it surely is Pauline, for Paul used the word ‘to brag’ when he declared his confidence in Jesus Christ and in the salvation of the world which God wrought through His Son.”) (Source: Nida 1952, p. 162)

worship

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The Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek terms that are often translated as “worship” (also, “kneel down” or “bow down”) are likewise translated in other languages in certain categories, including those based on physical activity, those which incorporate some element of “speaking” or “declaring,” and those which specify some type of mental activity.

Following is a list of (back-) translations (click or tap for details):

  • Javanese: “to prostrate oneself before”
  • Malay: “to kneel and bow the head”
  • Kaqchikel: “to kneel before”
  • Loma (Liberia): “to drop oneself beneath God’s foot”
  • Tepeuxila Cuicatec: “to wag the tail before God” (using a verb which with an animal subject means “to wag the tail,” but with a human subject)
  • Tzotzil: “to join to”
  • Kpelle: “to raise up a blessing to God”
  • Kekchí: “to praise as your God”
  • Cashibo-Cacataibo: “to say one is important”
  • San Blas Kuna: “to think of God with the heart”
  • Rincón Zapotec: “to have one’s heart go out to God”
  • Tabasco Chontal: “to holy-remember” (source of this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Alur: rwo: “complete submission, adoration, consecration” (source: F. G. Lasse in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 22ff.)
  • Obolo: itọtọbọ ebum: “expressing reverence and devotion” (source: Enene Enene)
  • Ngäbere: “to cut oneself down before” (“This figure of speech comes from the picture of towering mahoganies in the forest which, under the woodman’s ax, quiver, waver, and then in solemn, thunderous crashing bury their lofty heads in the upstretched arms of the surrounding forest. This is the experience of every true worshiper who sees ‘the Lord, high and lifted up.’ Our own unworthiness brings us low. As the Valientes say, ‘we cut ourselves down before’ His presence. Our heads, which have been carried high in self-confidence, sink lower and lower in worship.)
  • Tzeltal: “ending oneself before God.” (“Only by coming to the end of oneself can one truly worship. The animist worships his deities in the hope of receiving corresponding benefits, and some pagans in Christendom think that church attendance is a guarantee of success in this life and good luck in the future. But God has never set a price on worship except the price that we must pay, namely, ‘coming to the end of ourselves.'”) (Source of this and the one above: Nida 1952, p. 163)
  • Folopa: “dying under God” (“an idiom that roughly back-translates “dying under God” which means lifting up his name and praising him and to acknowledge by everything one does and thanks that God is superior.”) (Source: Anderson / Moore, p. 202)
  • Chokwe: kuivayila — “to rub something on” (“When anyone goes into the presence of a king or other superior, according to native law and custom the inferior gets down on the ground, takes a little earth in the fingers of his right hand, rubs it on his own body, and then claps his hands in homage and the greeting of friendship. It is a token of veneration, of homage, of extreme gratitude for some favor received. It is also a recognition of kingship, lordship, and a prostrating of oneself in its presence. Yet it simply is the applicative form of ‘to rub something on oneself’, this form of the verb giving the value of ‘because of.’ Thus in God’s presence as king and Lord we metaphorically rub dirt on ourselves, thus acknowledging Him for what He really is and what He has done for us.”) (Source: D. B. Long in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 87ff.)

In Luang it is translated with different shades of meaning:

  • For Mark 15:19 and Matt. 2:8 and 2:11: “uh’idma-rrama llia’ara” — “to kiss the fingernail and lick the heel”
  • For Acts 16:14: ra’uli-rawedi — “to praise-talk about”
  • For Acts 14:15, 15:20, 17:16, 17:25: hoi-tani — “serve right hand – serve left”
  • For Acts 13:16 and 13:26: una-umta’ata — “respect-fear”
  • For 2 Thess. 2:4: kola tieru awur nehla — “hold waist – hug neck”

Source: Kathy Taber in Notes on Translation 1/1999, p. 9-16.

priest

The Greek hierus and its various forms that are typically translated as “priest” in English (itself deriving from Latin “presbyter” — “elder”) is often translated with a consideration of existing religious traditions. (Click or tap for details)

Bratcher / Nida (1961) say this:

However, rather than borrow local names for priests, some of which have unwanted connotations, a number of translations have employed descriptive phrases based on certain functions: (1) those describing a ceremonial activity: Pamona uses “tadu,” the priestess who recites the litanies in which she describes her journey to the upper or under-world to fetch life-spirit for sick people, animals or plants; Batak Toba uses the Arabic “malim,” “Muslim religious teacher;” “one who presents man’s sacrifice to God” (Bambara, Eastern Maninkakan), “one who presents sacrifices” (Baoulé, Navajo), “one who takes the name of the sacrifice” (Kpelle), and “to make a sacrifice go out” (Hausa); (2) those describing an intermediary function: “one who speaks to God” (Shipibo-Conibo) and “spokesman of the people before God” (Tabasco Chontal).

In Obolo it is translated as ogwu ngwugwa: “The one who offers sacrifice” (source: Enene Enene) and in Mairasi as agam aevar nevwerai: “religious leader” (source: Enggavoter 2004).

For Guhu-Samane, Ernest Richert (in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff.) reports this:

The [local] cult of Poro used to be an all-encompassing religious system that essentially governed all areas of life. (…) For ‘priest’ the term “poro father” would at first seem to be a natural choice. However, several priests of the old cult are still living. Although they no longer function primarily as priests of the old system they still have a substantial influence on the community, and there would be more than a chance that the unqualified term would (in some contexts particularly) be equated with the priest of the poro cult. We learned, then, that the poro fathers would sometimes be called “knife men” in relation to their sacrificial work. The panel was pleased to apply this term to the Jewish priest, and the Christian community has adopted it fully. [Mark 1:44, for instance, now] reads: “You must definitely not tell any man of this. But you go show your body to the knife man and do what Moses said about a sacrifice concerning your being healed, and the cause (base of this) will be apparent.”

For a revision of the 1968 version of the Bible in Khmer Joseph Hong (in: The Bible Translator 1996, 233ff.) talks about a change in wording for this term:

Bocheachary — The use of this new construction meaning “priest” is maintained to translate the Greek word hiereus. The term “lauk sang” used in the old version actually means a “Buddhist monk,” and is felt to be theologically misleading. The Khmer considers the Buddhist monk as a “paddy field of merits,” a reserve of merits to be shared with other people. So a Khmer reader would find unthinkable that the lauk sang in the Bible killed animals, the gravest sin for a Buddhist; and what a scandal it would be to say that a lauk sang was married, had children, and drank wine.

joy

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated with “joy” or “gladness” in English is translated with various associations of “sweetness” or taste: Bambara has “the spirit is made sweet,” Kpelle translates as “sweet heart,” and Tzeltal as “”the good taste of one’s heart,” Uduk uses the phrase “good to the stomach,” Baoulé “a song in the stomach,” Mískito “the liver is wide open” (“happily letting the pleasures flooding in upon it”) and Mairasi says “good liver.” (Sources: Nida 1952, except for Mairasi: Enggavoter 2004).

See also Seat of the Mind for traditional views of “ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling” and exceeding joy.

angel

The Greek that is translated as “angel” in English versions is translated as ngaṉka ngurrara (“one who belongs in the sky”) in Pintupi-Luritja. (Source: Ken Hansen quoted in Steven 1984a, p. 116.)

In Shipibo-Conibo it is translated as “word-carriers from heaven,” in Tetela, Kpelle, Balinese, and Chinese as “heavenly messengers,” in Shilluk “spirit messengers,” in Mashco Piro as “messengers of God,” in Batak Toba as “envoys, messengers,” in Navajo as “holy servants,” (source for this and above: Bratcher / Nida 1961), in Central Mazahua “one of God’s workers” (source: Ronald D. Olson in Notes on Translation January, 1968, p. 15ff.), in Tonga (Zambia) as “messenger from heaven” (source: Loewen 1980, p. 107), in Saramaccan as basia u Masa Gaangadu köndë or “messenger from God’s country” (source: Jabini 2015, p. 86), in Mairasi as atatnyev nyaa or “sent-one” (source: Enggavoter 2004), and in Apali as “God’s one with talk from the head” (“basically God’s messenger since head refers to any leader’s talk”) (source: Martha Wade).

See also angel (Acts 12:15).

forgive, forgiveness

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The concept of “forgiveness” is expressed in varied ways through translations. Following is a list of (back-) translations from some languages:

  • Tswa, Inupiaq, Panao Huánuco Quechua: “forgetting about”
  • Navajo: “to give back” (based on the idea that sin produces an indebtedness, which only the one who has been sinned against can restore)
  • Huichol, Shipibo-Conibo, Eastern Highland Otomi, Uduk: “erase,” “wipe out,” “blot out”
  • Highland Totonac, Huautla Mazatec: “to lose,” “cause to be lost,” “to make lacking”
  • Tzeltal: “to lose another’s sin out of one’s heart”
  • Lahu, Burmese: “to be released,” “to be freed”
  • Ayacucho Quechua: “to level off”
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: “to cast away”
  • Chol: “to pass by”
  • Wayuu: “to make pass”
  • Kpelle: “to turn one’s back on”
  • Chicahuaxtla Triqui: “to cover over” (a figure of speech which is also employed in Hebrew, but which in many languages is not acceptable, because it implies “hiding” or “concealment”)
  • Tabasco Chontal, Huichol: “to take away sins”
  • Toraja-Sa’dan, Javanese: “to do away with sins”
  • San Blas Kuna: “erasing the evil heart” (this and all above: Bratcher / Nida)
  • Eggon: “to withdraw the hand”
  • Mískito: “take a man’s fault out of your heart” (source of this and the one above: Kilgour, p. 80)
  • Western Parbate Kham: “unstring someone” (“hold a grudge” – “have someone strung up in your heart”) (source: Watters, p. 171)
  • Cebuano: based on saylo: “go beyond”
  • Iloko: based on awan: “none” or “no more” (source for this and above: G. Henry Waterman in The Bible Translator 1960, p. 24ff.)
  • Tzotzil: ch’aybilxa (“it has been lost”) (source: Aeilts, p. 118)
  • Martu Wangka: “throw out badness” (source: Carl Gross)
  • Mairasi: “dismantle wrongs” (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Koonzime: “removing the bad deed-counters” (“The Koonzime lay out the deeds symbolically — usually strips of banana leaf — and rehearse their grievances with the person addressed.”) (Source: Keith and Mary Beavon in Notes on Translation 3/1996, p. 16)
  • Amahuaca: “erasing” / “smoothing over” (“It was an expression the people used for smoothing over dirt when marks or drawings had been made in it. It meant wiping off dust in which marks had been made, or wiping off writing on the blackboard. To wipe off the slate, to erase, to take completely away — it has a very wide meaning and applies very well to God’s wiping away sins, removing them from the record, taking them away.”) (Source: Robert Russel, quoted in Walls / Bennett 1959, p. 193)

baptism, baptize

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About the translation of the Greek term that is usually transliterated with the terms “baptism” or “baptize” (baptise) in English (for other English translations see below), Bratcher / Nida (1961) say this (click or tap for details):

“[It] has given rise not only to an immense amount of discussion in terms of its meaning within the Judaeo-Christian historical context, but also continues to introduce serious problems for translators today. In many instances the recommendation has been to transliterate, i.e. employing some indigenous equivalent of the sounds of the word in some more prestigious language spoken in the region, e.g. English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese. Though this solution tends to remove some theological controversies, it does not completely satisfy everyone, for not only does it avoid the problem of the mode of baptism, but it leaves the Scriptures with a zero word. Unfortunately, many of the controversies over the indigenous equivalent of baptism arise because of a false evaluation of a word’s so-called etymology. For example, in Yucateco the word for baptism means literally ‘to enter the water’, but this term is used freely by both Presbyterians and Roman Catholics, even though it might appear to be strictly ‘Baptist nomenclature.’ Similarly, in Kekchí, an even ‘stronger’ term ‘to put under the water’ is employed by Nazarenes and Roman Catholics. Obviously the meanings of these Yucateco and Kekchí words are not derivable from their literal significance but from the fact that they now designate a particular kind of Christian rite. To insist on changing such a well-established usage (and one to which immersionists could certainly not object) would seem quite unwarranted. The situation may, on the other hand, be reversed. There are instances in which immersionists are quite happy to use a term which though it means literally ‘to put water on the head’ [see below for the translation in Northern Emberá] has actually lost this etymological value and refers simply to the rite itself, regardless of the way in which it is performed. A translator should not, however, employ an already existing expression or construct a new phrase which will in its evident meaning rule wout any major Christian constituency.

“There are, of course, a number of instances in which traditional terms for ‘baptism’ need modification. In some situations the word may mean only ‘to give a new name to’ (one aspect of christening) or ‘to be one who lights’ (referring to a custom in some traditions of lighting a candle at the time of baptism). However, in order to reproduce the core of significant meaning of the original Biblical term, it is important to explore the entire range of indigenous usage in order that whatever term is chosen may have at least some measure of cultural relevance. In Navajo, for example, there were four principal possibilities of choice: (1) borrowing some transliterated form of the English word, (2) constructing a phrase meaning ‘to touch with water’ (an expression which would have been acceptable with some groups in the field, but not with others), (3) using a phrase meaning ‘ceremonial washing’ (but this expression seemed to be too closely related to indigenous practices in healing ceremonies), and (4) devising an expression meaning ‘to dedicate (or consecrate) by water’, without specifying the amount of water employed. This last alternative was chosen as the most meaningful and the best basis for metaphorical extension and teaching.

“On the other hand, it would be wrong to think that the meaning of ‘washing’ must be rejected in all languages. For example, it is quite appropriate in Kpelle culture, since it ties in with male puberty rites, and in the San Blas Kuna society, since washing is a very important aspect of female puberty ceremonies, in some translations ‘water’ is introduced into the expression for baptism, but the quantity and means of administrating it are left quite ambiguous, e.g. ‘to get (take, receive) water’ (Tzeltal). Toraja-Sa’dan, Pamona and Batak Toba render the verb ‘to pour water over, give a bath’.” (Source: Bratcher / Nida)

Other examples of translation include:

  • Javanese, Indonesian: transliterated forms of the Greek “baptizo”
  • Pamona, Wejewa: “to bathe, wash with water”
  • Sundanese: “to apply water to”
  • Padoe: “to make one wet with water”
  • Batak Simalungun: “to wash with a little bit of water” (“used in speaking of a ceremony in which very small children are ceremonially cleansed”)
  • Kambera: “to dip into”
  • Balinese: ngelukat (a Balinese initiation ceremony in which persons were sprinkled with consecrated water) (source for this and above: Biblical Terms in The Bible Translator 1952, p. 225ff.
  • Mairasi: fat jaenggom; “water washing” (“baptize with the Holy Spirit”: “wash with the Holy Spirit) (source: Enggavoter 2004)
  • Kwara’ae: “holy wash” (traditional church term for baptism) (source: Carl Gross)
  • Shipibo-Conibo: “to wash” (Catholic: “to name;” Seventh Day Adventists: “to bathe”) (source: James Lauriault in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 56ff.)
  • Northern Emberá: “head-poured” (source: Loewen 1980, p. 107)
  • Muna: kadiu sarani “Christian bathing” (source: René von den Berg)
  • Halh Mongolian: argon ochial (“holy washing”) (“The people in Mongolia are strictly religious and understand the meaning very well. They are familiar with the idea of water being used as a symbol of a new life and having received ‘holy washing’ means to have entered into a new sphere of life.”) (Source: A. Marthinson in The Bible Translator 1954, p. 74ff.)
  • Many Germanic languages use a term that originally means “dip” or “make deep”: German: Taufe, Danish: dåb Swedish: dop, Norwegian: dåp, Dutch: doop, Faroese: dópur; and so do Creole languages with a strong Dutch influence, such as Saramaccan, Sranan Tongo, or Eastern Maroon Creole: dopu
  • Yatzachi Zapotec: (Spanish loan word and transliteration of the Greek term) bautizar (Source: Otis M. Leal in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 164ff.
  • For more about this see here.

    “The Yatzachi Zapotec know the practice of baptism and have a word to express it. There would thus seem to be no problem involved. Unfortunately, however, the word for ‘baptize’ is a compound, one part being a word nowhere else used and the other part being the word for ‘water.’ Perhaps ‘water-baptize’ is the closest equivalent in English. For most contexts this presents no problem, but if the word is used in Mark 1:8, it would say, ‘He will water-baptize you with the Holy Ghost.’ In Zapotec the idea is unintelligible. To meet the problem, the Spanish word ‘bautizar’ was introduced at this point though the Zapotec word is ordinarily used. The disadvantages of this substitution are obvious, but no better solution was found.”

  • Uab Meto: antam oe (“to enter into the water”) (Source: P. Middelkoop in The Bible Translator 1952 p. 165ff.)
  • For more about this see here.

    Formerly in Uab Meto the word used for ’baptism” was ‘nasrami’ which actually came by way of Arabic from ‘Nazarene.’ Its meaning was ‘to make a Christian’ and the idea was that the one who baptized actually made Christians. Such an expression was obviously inadequate. We have used for ‘baptize’ the phrase in ‘antam oe’ which means ‘to enter into the water.’ This phrase can be used for sprinkling, for water is used as a symbol of the new life, and being baptized means for the Uab Meto to enter into a new sphere of life. Baptism is so frequently spoken of in connection with the giving of the Holy Spirit that the proper associations have arisen in the thinking of the people.”

  • Chinese: Catholic: 洗 (“washing”); non-Baptist Protestant 聖洗 shèngxǐ (“holy washing”); Baptist: 浸洗 jìnxǐ (“immerse and wash”) (In the history of Chinese Bible translation the translation of the Greek baptizo was a point of great contention, so much so that in the 19th Century Baptists had a completely different set of Bible translations and even today are using different editions with the different term of the same versions that other Protestants use.) (Source: Zetzsche 2008)

The disagreement about whether the translation of the Greek baptizo needed to include “immersion” not only caused conflict in China, it also led to splits — and different translations — in English-speaking countries: “The influential British and Foreign Bible Society had been a major supporter of the [Baptist] Serampore mission, but it finally severed its support in 1836 because of the Baptist interpretation of the Bible translations produced there. This led to the formation of the separate Baptist Bible Translation Society in Great Britain in 1840. Almost concurrently, in 1837, the American and Foreign Bible Society was founded in the United States as an offspring of the American Bible Society, over a controversy about a Baptist Bengali Bible translation. The American and Foreign Bible Society itself experienced another split in 1850, when a sub-group rejected the transliteration of baptizo in the English Bible and formed the American Bible Union, which published its own English New Testament in 1862/63” that used the term “immerse” instead of baptize see here). (Source: Zetzsche 2008)